The year 2014 marked the 15th Anniversary (if you count the year 2000, then that's fifteen years) of the "comic book movie craze," in its modern form anyway.
Before Marvel hit the box office running, there were plenty of great, and not-so-great, comic book films. It wasn't a continuous cycle of films as it is now, however, as the decades before were instead marked by isolated starts and stops. A film would come out, become a hit, thus sparking the latest fad, and eventually it would burn itself out - diluted by films of lesser quality. Years later it would start again with another hit, and again it would burn itself out. So it had been.
Then, in 2000, Marvel entered the scene with their first theatrical hit based on a well-known property: Bryan Singer's X-Men. Why is Marvel's emergence in Hollywood so important? Well, because the other comic book publishers, DC/Vertigo, Image, Dark Horse, etc., had all run themselves into the ground by that time.
In the years leading up to the year 2000...
DC Comics had released the double-whammy of Batman & Robin and Steel in 1997, and thus movies based on DC characters were dead-in-the-water until they could figure out how to make sense of them on the big screen. With the exception of the DC-owned Paradox Press adaptation Road to Perdition in 2002, DC wouldn't have a well-known character hit the screen until 2004 with the lackluster Catwoman. Luckily, they had Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins already filming and ready to release in 2005 (which makes one wonder why the non-Batman-related Catwoman movie was made in the first place), otherwise who knows what may have happened to DC's film career.
Image Comics, never the brand name it always thought it was, bet big on their biggest character Spawn, also in 1997. The problem was that the movie wasn't nearly as cool as it should have been, and it wasn't as successful as they'd hoped it would be. By 2000, Image had gone straight to television with the "Witchblade" TV movie-turned-series, and has yet to return to the big screen.
Dark Horse Comics had a huge hit in 1994 with the Oscar-nominated, effects-filled, Jim Carrey smash hit The Mask, and that same year they also put out the Van Damme vehicle TimeCop - which was a pretty decent hit, too (and remains Van Damme's biggest movie that he's the star of). After that, though, it took 10 years to hit those sort of highs again. 1995's Tank Girl was a flop, despite its cult status. 1996's Barb Wire was a notoriously big ugly flop. 1999's Mystery Men flopped, despite receiving a decent critical reception, and also in 1999 their sci-fi/horror film Virus was another big ugly flop. They wouldn't return to the box office until 2004, with Alien vs. Predator (which was a huge hit - getting by on the love of their respective franchises more than the film itself, I believe) and Guillermo del Toro's Hellboy adaptation, which was a modest hit and found favor amongst fans.
The second-half of the 90's was just a poor time for comic book movies, all-in-all. Other films that helped kill comic book adaptations on screen include The Crow: City of Angels (1996), pissing all the coolness of the 1994 original down the toilet, and the Stallone/Schneider Judge Dredd (1995), which was another huge box office dud that most people downright hated (I think it's guilty-pleasure fun, honestly).
There were a few exceptions, of course.
Blade was a decent hit in 1998, and helped Marvel stay out of bankruptcy long enough to get X-Men made, but it capitalized more on the box-office success of star Wesley Snipes and its visual-effects driven vampire-action story than it did on its comic book roots. Most mainstream audiences at the time didn't know it was based on a comic until they read it on the screen during the opening credits.
Men In Black was a huge box office sensation in 1997, but again, most people weren't familiar with the comics until after-the-fact. I'm pretty sure its success had more to do with being really funny and having Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones in it. (Technically it could be considered a Marvel movie, even though it was published under Aircel Comics, and then they were bought out by Malibu Comics, and then they were bought up by Marvel during the mid-90's while the comic industry was on its ass. I don't consider it a Marvel movie, however, because Marvel's name isn't on it, none of Marvel's film producers were involved, and Marvel didn't actually publish the comics title until around the time of the film's release).
So, back to the year 2000...
X-Men comes out and does pretty well at the box office ($296 million) and was well received by critics and audiences alike (all of this despite the shitty line from Storm about toads and lightning). The success of this film ignites the spark, and fills the coffers enough, to turn arguably Marvel's biggest character, Spider-Man, into a film (Marvel finally got the film rights back to him around 1999/2000 - look up the decades-long Spider-Man court cases if you want more info on that).
So, in 2002, Spider-Man was released, and was not just a success - but a box-office monster ($822 million). Spider-Man was knocking new box-office records out of the park day-after-day-after-day. Biggest opening weekend, biggest single day at the box office, biggest non-sequel ever made, etc. These days, it seems like every summer these records are broken by the next big thing, but that wasn't always the case. Spider-Man joins a summer-blockbuster list with 1989's Batman and 1993's Jurassic Park, where the summer "belongs" to it. We wouldn't have a movie, or a summer, like that again until 2008's The Dark Knight.
And so it has been, beginning with X-Men and fueled by Spider-Man's success, ever since. X-Men and Spider-Man riled up the box office well and good enough that the other companies (DC and Dark Horse and a few other independent publishers) were able to join in on the fun. There have been movies that didn't have the same success as others, there have even been some notoriously bad ones, but unlike the mid-to-late 90's these duds didn't kill the momentum of other projects. The momentum has carried on, regardless.
And now, fifteen years later, with audiences as cynical as ever and the majority of old-school film critics worn down by a "comic book craze" they never asked for, I think it's interesting that going into 2014 the word on the street was that these films may have run their course. Everyone was seemingly tired of them, suffering from Comic Book Overload, blah blah blah.
Yet, as we all know now...
Captain America: The Winter Soldier did extremely well, earning $715 million dollars, with an average critic rating of 7.5 out of 10 and a 7.8 out of 10 from audiences. And even those critics that claimed to be suffering symptoms of Comic Book Overload loved it in spite of themselves.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 may have gotten (a bit unfairly, in my opinion) ripped apart by most critics and some audiences, but it did pretty well anyway (earning $709 million dollars). And besides, a 5.9 out of 10 average critic rating and 6.9 out of 10 average from audiences makes it hardly the "absolute garbage" some might have you believe. It's not an overwhelming success, but it's still strong enough to keep the character going. The recent news that Sony and Marvel reached an agreement to utilize the character within Marvel's universe just goes to show that the character is still a hot commodity. If The Amazing Spider-Man 2 were a complete failure, the character would've been shelved for a while - as was the case with Superman, Batman, The Crow, and every other comic property that hit a creatively inferior wall. The next Spider-Man film hits theaters, seemingly on schedule, in two years.
X-Men: Days of Future Past, on the other hand, was a resounding hit and return to form for the series that started this century off. Critics gave it an average 7.6 out of 10, and audiences gave it an average 8.1 out of 10. It's also earned $748 million dollars, making it not only the biggest movie in the X-Men franchise (by a large margin), but also the sixth highest grossing movie of 2014, and the second highest grossing comic book film.
Then there was the dark horse of the summer, known before its release as "Marvel's riskiest venture yet," James Gunn's Guardians of the Galaxy. Years from now, if any movie were said to have owned the summer of 2014, it would probably be this one. Critics loved it (a 7.7 out of 10 average), audiences loved it (an 8.2 out of 10 average), and it earned $774 million dollars at the box office, landing it as the third highest grossing film of 2014 and the No. 1 comic book film. Not bad for a movie based on characters that most people - even comics fans - weren't very familiar with.
There was also the reboot of the popular Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise, which critics hated (a 4.2 out of 10 average) and audiences were mixed on (6.0 out of 10 average). Although, despite its reputation... there seem to be plenty of people that enjoyed it. Those numbers aren't low enough to make it a complete disappointment, and it did pretty well at the box office. I mean, it earned $485 million dollars, enough to make it the biggest film in the franchise (more than doubling the box office of the original 1990 smash hit).
Towards the end of 2014, Disney released the Marvel adaptation Big Hero 6 (although without the Marvel tie-in). The film garnered great reviews (7.3 average critic rating), great audience reviews (an 8.0 average audience rating), and earned $633 million dollars at the box office. It also became only the sixth ever film based on a comic book property to win an Academy Award (not counting 1978's Superman which was given a Special Achievement Award but lost all awards for which it was nominated).
Taking all of this together, I conclude...
If 'people' are so tired of comic book films, then I'd say that the box-office successes of the last few years indicate that those 'people' are the extreme minority. The trend is actually going stronger than ever, and I don't think it will hit a ceiling anytime soon. For every movie that comes out labeled a misfire, there are ten more on the way that have fans giggling in anticipation.
I want to celebrate the 15th Anniversary of the Comic Book Movie Craze. Fifteen years of movies that I dreamed about seeing when I was a kid. Movies that, as an adult, I can watch and feel like that kid again for 2 hours or so. They may not all be perfect, and I might get self-righteous like the rest of the internet at times - the comic book nerd in me must have his say from time to time - but I wouldn't have it any other way. I enjoy almost all of them, and that's enough. They may not all be my favorite movies, or the ones I respect the most, and I have no idea at this point what sort of bearing these movies might have on film history as a whole... but I can tell you this: I love the shit out of watching them!
They're fun. They're entertaining. They are the very definition of the word "spectacle." A word that these days might make someone reply with, "And... what else?" - but the very word itself shares its roots in both 17th century English theater and the invention of the film medium in the late 19th century. These "spectacle" movies are, in fact, EXACTLY what film and storytelling is all about, and have always been about. (Check mate, classic-film-minded movie critics that hate summer blockbusters).
Now that the history lesson is over...
I've listed the Top 15 best choices, based on the reviews from both critics and audiences and the general consensus. The list of films will be determined using the average rating made up of the critics consensus as well as the fan consensus (which, contrary to what some might believe, is not the same as being 'the most vocal on the internet'). Most comic book films usually end up with an above average rating, between 5.5 and 6.5 out of 10. Almost all of the ones on these lists have a 7.0 or higher rating. For the performances and scores, I've done my research to try to find the best of popular opinion as well as some more interesting opinions backed up by good arguments (while also trying to include films that may have flown under the radar with general audiences but have loyal cult followings).
It should be noted that, as with all of my lists, only theatrically released films are included, and only those released theatrically in the U.S. (even if it was just a single showing).
Also, please take into account that the quality of an acting performance or original music score have nothing to do with the standing or overall quality of the film itself (i.e. just because a movie isn't considered the best, doesn't mean that an actor wasn't good in it or that the music wasn't solid).
The lists are broken up into Superhero comic book movies, and Non-Superhero comic book movies. This is mostly to avoid the weirdness that always comes from seeing these two very different types of films sitting uncomfortably together on a list. There are a few films that ride the line of whether they'd be considered one or the other, and concerning these just know that I did my best. Lastly, the titles or names are listed alphabetically.
Simply choose which one you think should win, and I'll tally up the results. It might not be easy. No ties, no runner-ups, no write-in-your-own-title votes... "There can be only one!"
SUPERHERO COMIC BOOK FILMS:_________________________________________________________________________
I. Best Superhero Comic Book Film of the Last 15 Years (2000-2014):
01. The Avengers
02. Batman Begins
03. Big Hero 6
04. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
05. The Dark Knight
06. The Dark Knight Rises
07. Guardians of the Galaxy
08. Iron Man
11. Spider-Man 2
13. X-Men: Days of Future Past
14. X-Men: First Class
15. X2: X-Men United
II. Best Lead Performance in a Superhero Comic Book Film of the Last 15 Years:
01. Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne/Batman - Batman Begins
02. Henry Cavill as Kal-El/Superman - Man of Steel
03. Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man - Iron Man
04. Chris Evans as Steve Rogers/Captain America - Captain America: The Winter Soldier
05. Michael Fassbender as Erik Lensherr/Magneto - X-Men: First Class
06. Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker/Spider-Man - The Amazing Spider-Man
07. Jackie Earle Haley as Walter Kovacs/Rorschach - Watchmen
08. Chris Hemsworth as Thor - Thor: The Dark World
09. Hugh Jackman as Logan/The Wolverine - The Wolverine
10. Thomas Jane as Frank Castle/The Punisher- The Punisher
11. Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker/Spider-Man - Spider-Man 2
12. Ron Perlman as Hellboy - Hellboy
13. Chris Pratt as Peter Quill/Star-Lord - Guardians of the Galaxy
14. Brandon Routh as Superman/Clark Kent - Superman Returns
15. Wesley Snipes as Blade - Blade II
III. Best Supporting Performance in a Superhero Comic Book Film of the Last 15 Years:
01. Bradley Cooper as Rocket Raccoon - Guardians of the Galaxy
02. Billy Crudup as Jon Osterman/Dr. Manhattan - Watchmen
03. Willem Dafoe as Norman Osborne/Green Goblin - Spider-Man
04. Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent/Two-Face - The Dark Knight
05. Sam Elliot as Gen. Ross - Hulk
06. Jason Flemyng as Dr. Henry Jekyll/Mr. Edward Hyde - The League of Extraordinary Gentleman
07. Tom Hiddleston as Loki - Thor
08. Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow - Captain America: The Winter Soldier
09. Doug Jones as Abe Sapien - Hellboy II: The Golden Army
10. Heath Ledger as The Joker - The Dark Knight
11. James McAvoy as Charles Xavier - X-Men: Days of Future Past
12. Chloë Grace Moretz as Mindy Macready/Hit-Girl - Kick-Ass
13. Gary Oldman as Jim Gordon - The Dark Knight
14. Mark Ruffalo as Dr. Bruce Banner/Hulk - The Avengers
15. Emma Stone as Gwen Stacey - The Amazing Spider-Man
IV. Best Peripheral Performance in a Superhero Comic Book Film of the Last 15 Years:
01. Michael Caine as Alfred Pennyworth - The Dark Knight Rises
02. Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent - Man of Steel
03. Idris Elba as Heimdall - Thor
04. Jon Favreau as Happy Hogan - Iron Man 3
05. Luke Goss as Nomak - Blade II
06. Rosemary Harris as Aunt May - Spider-Man 2
07. Frank Langella as Perry White - Superman Returns
08. Dennis Leary as Capt. Stacy - The Amazing Spider-Man
09. Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson/Falcon - Captain America: The Winter Soldier
10. Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Edward Blake/The Comedian - Watchmen
11. Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts - Iron Man
12. Michael Rooker as Yondu Udonta - Guardians of the Galaxy
13. J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson - Spider-Man 2
14. Patrick Stewart as Charles Xavier - X-Men
15. Jeffrey Tambor as Tom Manning - Hellboy
V. Best Superhero Theme (Score) in a Comic Book Film of the Last 15 Years:
01. Craig Armstrong - The Incredible Hulk
02. Patrick Doyle - Thor
03. Danny Elfman - Hulk
04. Danny Elfman - Spider-Man
05. James Horner - The Amazing Spider-Man
06. James Newton Howard & Hans Zimmer - The Dark Knight
07. Henry Jackman - Captain America: The Winter Soldier
08. Henry Jackman - X-Men: First Class
09. Henry Jackman & Matthew Margeson - Kick Ass 2
10. John Ottman - X2: X-Men United
11. Alan Silvestri - The Avengers
12. Alan Silvestri - Captain America: The First Avenger
13. Brian Tyler - Iron Man 3
14. Michael Wandmacher - Punisher: War Zone
15. Hans Zimmer - Man of Steel
NON-SUPERHERO COMIC BOOK FILMS:_________________________________________________________________________
I. Best Non-Superhero Comic Book Film of the Last 15 Years (2000-2014):
02. The Adventures of Tintin
03. American Splendor
04. Death Note (2006)
06. Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence
07. Ghost World
08. A History of Violence
09. Oldboy (2003)
12. Road to Perdition
13. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
14. Sin City
15. V for Vendetta
II. Best Lead Performance in a Non-Superhero Comic Book Film of the Last 15 Years:
01. Tadanobu Asano as Kakihara - Ichi the Killer
02. Jamie Bell as Tintin - The Adventures of Tintin
03. Thora Birch as Enid - Ghost World
04. Louise Bourgoin as Adèle Blanc-Sec - The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec
05. Gerard Butler as King Leonidas - 300
06. Michael Cera as Scott Pilgrim - Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
07. Min-sik Choi as Dae-su Oh - Oldboy (2003)
08. Tom Cruise as Jack - Oblivion
09. Johnny Depp as Inspector Frederick Abberline - From Hell
10. Paul Giamatti as Harvey Pekar - American Splendor
11. Tom Hanks as Michael Sullivan - Road to Perdition
12. James McAvoy as Wesley - Wanted
13. Viggo Mortensen as Tom Stall - A History of Violence
14. Karl Urban as Dredd - Dredd
15. Hugo Weaving as V - V for Vendetta
III. Best Supporting Performance in a Non-Superhero Comic Book Film of the Last 15 Years:
01. Maria Bello as Edie Stall - A History of Violence
02. Steve Buscemi as Seymour - Ghost World
03. Hope Davis as Joyce Brabner - American Splendor
04. Ed Harris as Carl Fogarty - A History of Violence
05. Ken'ichi Matsuyama as L - Death Note: The Last Name
06. Shidô Nakamura as No. 13 - Neighbour No. 13
07. Paul Newman as John Rooney - Road to Perdition
08. Nao Ômori as Ichi - Ichi the Killer
09. Clive Owen as Dwight - Sin City
10. Mary-Louise Parker as Sarah Ross - RED
11. Natalie Portman as Evey - V for Vendetta
12. Andrea Riseborough as Victoria - Oblivion
13. Mickey Rourke as Marv - Sin City
14. Andy Serkis as Capt. Haddock/Sir Francis Haddock - The Adventures of Tintin
15. Rachel Weisz as Angela Dodson/Isabel Dodson - Constantine
IV. Best Peripheral Performance in a Non-Superhero Comic Book Film of the Last 15 Years:
01. Jim Broadbent as Jimmy - Art School Confidential
02. Clancy Brown as Meacham - Cowboys & Aliens
03. Sharlto Copley as Adrian - Oldboy (2013)
04. Daniel Craig as Conner Rooney - Road to Perdition
05. Kieran Culkin as Wallace Wells - Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
06. Benicio del Toro as Jackie Boy - Sin City
07. Ben Foster as The Stranger - 30 Days of Night
08. Stephen Fry as Deitrich - V for Vendetta
09. Ian Holm as Sir William Gull - From Hell
10. William Hurt as Richie Cusack - A History of Violence
11. Jude Law as Maguire - Road to Perdition
12. Jô Odagiri as Bijomaru Mogami - Azumi
13. Rodrigo Santoro as Xerxes - 300
14. Tilda Swinton as Gabriel - Constantine
15. Elijah Wood as Kevin - Sin City
V. Best Original Score in a Non-Superhero Comic Book Film of the Last 15 Years:
01. Tyler Bates - 300
02. Olivier Bernet - Persepolis
03. John Debney, Graeme Revell & Robert Rodriguez - Sin City
04. Jean-Jacques Hertz & François Roy - Renegade (Blueberry)
05. Yeong-wook Jo - Oldboy (2003)
06. Trevor Jones - From Hell
07. Kenji Kawai - Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence
08. David Kitay - Ghost World
09. M83 - Oblivion
10. Dario Marianelli - V for Vendetta
11. Richard Marvin - Surrogates
12. Paul Leonard-Morgan - Dredd
13. Thomas Newman - Road to Perdition
14. Howard Shore - A History of Violence
15. John Williams - The Adventures of Tintin
Submit your votes to me in a Facebook Message, please, just to help keep voting anonymous and avoid people from arguing in the comments (and therefore swaying someone else's vote).
- gARTh -